I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few whisky trips to Kyoto, in fact one of the major perks of my job is the inside track on the best places to enjoy a dram in Japan. Special thanks to the incredible Dave Broom, a man most famous in these parts, for his great recommendations which were a pleasure to investigate and also to, Zoran Peric, my drinking partner-in-crime on my last trip.
1. Bar Cordon NoirAddress: Kiyamachi-dori Sanjo-sagaru, Ishiyacho 121 Matsushimaya Bldg 3F Opening hours: 7pm-3am
This 32-seater bar has around 600 whiskies on the incredible back bar including many rare Japanese finds at very decent prices. They also have some great cigars. We tried desperately to catch them out and request a whisky distillery or expression they didn’t have but they surprised and delighted us every time. Cordon Noir is the ideal ‘one for the road bar’ when in Kyoto.
2. Bar Rocking ChairAddress: Tachibana-machi 434-2 down, 600-8044 Kyoto Shimogyoku Miyuki-cho, through light Buddha temple Opening hours: 5pm-2am, Closed Tuesdays
Bar Rocking Chair is a bit of an institution, an old school Japanese cocktail bar which subscribes to traditional Japanese bar tending techniques and seating arrangements. You won’t be able to sit at the bar, if there are more than two of you and photos are sometimes frowned upon, but the technical brilliance can be easily observed from the tables and the amazing ice carving and hard shake techniques are better enjoyed through the mind’s eye as an everlasting memory than through a camera lens. There’s a private room upstairs for larger groups.
3. Sent JamesAddress: Chukyo-ku, Kyoto Ponto-cho Sanjo under Le timber-cho 180-3 (on the west side of Pontocho, about 50 meters south from the Pontocho Kaburenjo Theatre) Opening hours: 7pm-2am, 5pm on Sundays
By the Pontocho river, Sent James is a little tricky to find but well worth it when you do, this is a stunningly zen bar where you need to leave your shoes at the door and sink down into the bar seats.
Don’t expect a crowd but do expect an intimate, well-crafted drink. I love how the name may have been slightly lost in translation.
4. El TesoroAddress: Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City Yamatooji west side up Shinbashi Daiwa Building 1F Opening hours: 6pm – 3am
In the Gion district and serving excellent cocktails the guys at El Tesoro are super helpful and friendly.
It is a lovely atmospheric little bar and another great spot to watch the art of Japanese ice carving in action.
5. K6Address: Kyoto City Hall / Bar. Nijo Kiyamachi Higashi-iru, Valls Building 2F. [across the street from Hotel Fujita] Opening hours: 6pm-3am, 5pm on weekends
Last but certainly not least, K6 is one of the buzziest bars and biggest cocktail bars I’ve enjoyed in Kyoto. By all accounts most of the serious mixologists in town have worked here at some point. It enjoys a slightly younger crowd, stocks over 600 whiskies and makes a mean Manhattan. It also serves a good craft Japanese beer on draught.
A serious whisky den has opened downstairs from K6 called Bar Keller, operated by the same owners, sadly it wasn’t open on my last visit. But locals highly recommend it.